If you’re dreaming of an off-the-beaten-path travel paradise, meet Fakarava French Polynesia. But where is this tropical isle where palm trees outnumber inhabitants and tourists? Fakarava, one of 77 atolls in the Tuamotu Archipelago, sits southeast of Rangiroa in the portion of the South Pacific Ocean claimed by French Polynesia.
What is an atoll? It’s an islet, or series of islets, made from coral reef that encircle a shallow body of water called a lagoon. Channels between the islets provide access to the open ocean. The atoll forms when coral makes deposits on an underwater island or rim of an undersea volcano. As the deposits build up, the land rises slightly above the water’s surface. Voila—a tropical getaway is born!
How to get to Fakarava French Polynesia
Although it’s possible to fly to Fakarava from Papeetee or Bora Bora, Alan and I stood on the deck of a cruise ship to watch our arrival through the Garuae Pass into the lagoon’s turquoise water. The tiny islet was part of a Seabourn Sojourn Los Angeles to Los Angeles itinerary through French Polynesia and Hawaii.
From Deck 11, we could see a slender piece of land bordered on one side by the Pacific Ocean. The rectangular-shaped lagoon, second largest in the Tuamotu Atolls, bordered the other side of the islet. Designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Fakarava and its lagoon are home to many rare species of crustaceans, birds and plants.
Things to do in Fakarava French Polynesia
Top activities on Fakarava include diving, snorkeling, fishing or renting a bicycle to explore. Tourism barely exists. And you won’t see resorts, golf courses or sidewalks lined with shops. This is the real deal, folks—a true off-the-beaten-path tropical getaway.
By the time Alan and I got around to booking excursions, the Fakarava snorkeling excursion had filled up. So we added our names to the waiting list. After boarding Sojourn in Los Angeles, tour tickets placed on our cabin door included an afternoon Fakarava snorkeling session. We eventually cancelled the tour before arriving because afternoons in the tropics are windy with choppy water—not ideal snorkeling conditions.
Instead, we took the tender over to explore on our own. While most cruises guests walked the main road toward the one, small resort that was closed for renovation, Alan and I headed in the opposite direction. The dusty, dirt path took us to the Pacific side of Fakarava. Palm trees fringed a white beach with rough surf.
Crossing to the lagoon side, a small dirt trail took us beside a few homes with thatched roofs and no windows. Approximately 800 people live in Fakarava, making a living by fishing, producing copra for coconut oil products and pearl farming. If you’re looking for a quiet vacation, this is it!
On the lagoon side, Alan and I found a small rock wall, where we sat to admire and photograph the many turquoise shades of the pristine water. Although we didn’t see any, fellow passengers reported reef shark sightings.
Although we’re not divers, returning on a French Polynesia island hopping trip is calling our names.
Fakrava travel tips
- Book Fakrava snorkeling cruise excursions as soon as the cruise line makes them available online. There are only a few tour operators with limited boat capacity.
- Bring plenty of water from the ship, wear sunscreen and a hat. Our October visit was hot and humid but tolerable.
- Snorkel from a beach on the lagoon, if you brought snorkeling gear. Sojourn offered snorkeling gear for guests’ use. Pick yours up early on the day you are snorkeling.
- Purchase a medical evacuation membership and travel insurance. This is no place to be stuck if a major illness occurs.
- Expect that your guide or shopkeeper may not speak English. French is the major language followed by Tahitian.
- Independent travelers to Fakarava arrive mainly for the scuba diving. But be prepared for a rustic stay. As I’ve already mentioned, this is truly an off-the-beaten-path destination with very little infrastructure.
- Accommodations include small dive lodges and one small beach resort. Start your Fakarava lodging search with us.
Check out the rest of our South Pacific cruise excursion reviews.